SUPER-BESSE, France Portuguese rider Rui Alberto Costa won the eighth stage of the Tour de France after withstanding a late attack from Philippe Gilbert in the final climb Saturday, while Thor Hushovd kept the overall leaders yellow jersey.
Costa waved his hands in delight and punched the air as he crossed the line in 4 hours, 36 minutes, 46 seconds to clinch the first Tour stage win of his career.
I knew I could get in the breakaway (Saturday). The team put me in the best position, Costa said. I was lucky that I managed to hold on until the end. Im very happy with this win.
I attacked on my own at the end. I saw that my legs were good and that I could hold it alone. When it got to two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the end, I really worked hard and managed to reach my objective.
Costa paid tribute to Spanish cyclist Xavier Tondo, who died in May in a freak accident after he was crushed between his car and a garage door.
I want to dedicate this win to all the people who believed in me and supported me, Costa said. To my family, my teammates, to Xavier Tondo.
The race entered the mountains for the first time in the 117-mile trek from Aigurande to Super-Besse, featuring a sharp category-2 climb up Col de la Croix and a final climb of 1 mile.
Gilbert of Belgium made up a huge amount of time before crossing 12 seconds adrift, with Australian cyclist Cadel Evans finishing 15 seconds behind Costa in third place.
I needed a few more hundred meters, Gilbert said. The stage was very fast; there was a favorable wind. The last climb was very hard; I had to sit back down near the end of the line.
The last 200 meters were very long, but Ill take a second place on the Tour de France any day.
Hushovd still is one second ahead of Evans and has been wearing the yellow jersey since his Garmin-Cervelo team won last Sundays time trial. Hushovd, not a renowned climber, was certain he was going to lose the yellow jersey before the stage.
Maybe I was a bit pessimistic, he said. I didnt think I could do it. Another day in yellow, its a miracle.
Alexandre Vinokourov closed to within 15 seconds of Costa in the last mile, but the Kazakh rider ran out of steam as he had no teammates to help him when riding for several punishing miles on his own.
Gilbert was fresher after sitting in with the main pack for much of the days climbs. He overtook Vinokourov after launching an attack with about a quarter of a mile left. Vinokourov finished in 22nd place as many of the pack swallowed him up.
Vino is really very strong; I take my hat off to him, Gilbert said. He deserved to win this stage.
None of the main Tour contenders lost any significant time and finished in the same time as Evans, as did Hushovd.
Defending champion Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and Evans of Australia both two-time runners-up sized up each other with mini-attacks.
We tested each other; it was interesting to see how everyone would end up, Contador said. I can see we are all very close. Its very important to get the measure of other contenders.
Since Gilbert is not considered an overall Tour contender, they didnt feel the need to chase down the Belgian when he went after Vinokourov although Contador thinks he easily could have caught him.
I had felt very, very good (Saturday), Contador said. I was capable of following Gilbert.
Evans is looking forward to trying another attack in Sundays ninth stage, which also features several climbs.
I have a very good team thats been working very hard every day, Evans said. Lets wait and see what happens (Sunday).
Hushovd, a two-time winner of the green sprint jersey, only has to survive one more day in the mountains to keep hold of the yellow jersey into Mondays rest day and wear it on Tuesdays 10th stage.
I live in the south of France, in Monaco, and I train a lot in the mountains, said Hushovd, joking about his newfound climbing prowess. I also train a lot with Philippe Gilbert, and he pushes me.
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin and Associated Press Writer Greg Keller contributed to this report.